Silver coins have a long and illustrious history. Dating back to the earliest records, silver has been used as a medium of exchange. Minted silver coins were first used in the eastern Mediterranean region in 550 B.C. By 269 B.C., the Roman Empire adopted silver as part of its standard coinage and, from there, it spread along the trade route.
Until the late 19th century, most nations were on a silver standard, with silver coins making up the main circulating currency. Although gold was also used in coinage, its higher value made it impractical for everyday payments.
Today, Mexico is the only country that uses silver – in small amounts – in its currency. Other metals such as copper and nickel are more commonly found. Still, many countries use silver to create specially-issued bullion, commemorative and proof coins which are sold at prices above their face values and are popular with silver coin collectors. For example, the U.S. Mint issues a 999-fine Silver Eagle bullion coin (a one-ounce bullion coin with a face value of one dollar). The Royal Canadian Mint issues a five dollar, 9999-fine silver bullion coin, the silver Maple Leaf, and Australia offers a five dollar, one-ounce 999-fine silver bullion coin, the Kookaburra. Also, in the United States, the Morgan silver dollar, a mostly silver coin minted between 1878 and 1921, is a popular collector’s item.